The other day my friend texted me a question. I told him that I did have a response but I needed to hop onto the computer for it. From the computer I can type a response more quickly than I can on my phone—so most of the time you text me, I’m replying from the computer. In fact, my phone doesn’t often stay by me, so it isn’t uncommon for me to miss a call from someone I’m texting because they assume my phone is on me (it isn’t).
On days that I get up early (there haven’t been many this year) I’ve likely responded to my first email or text before 6am. I have a side hustle doing grading for Dallas Seminary. I tell students that I try to turn around any emails within 24 hours and, if easy to address, right away. My students have my phone number and know that if they have a question about the course, they can text me.
“Don’t call me,” I say.
“I don’t even answer the phone when my wife calls.”
(That’s actually not true, but the hyperbole helps drive home the point.)
I put a high value on responsiveness—both personally and when I see it in others. I don’t want to waste people’s time, so I don’t try to reach out to them for something I don’t need. Hearing, “Thanks for the quick reply,” brings me a lot of satisfaction. I know who, in general, is going to turn around a quick response and I appreciate it a thousand times over. (Also, if I don’t respond, there is almost always a reason why—even if that reason is just that I don’t want to respond.)
But, as you can likely see, this value is a two-edged sword. . .
Responsiveness Shows Value
I enjoy responding to people quickly because I believe it shows people value. My observation is that responsiveness is also so uncommon that the “thanks for the quick reply” comments I get back are due to the fact that almost no one expects people to respond.
I don’t want to hyper-spiritualize it, but I will. I think our responsiveness to people is a way to be Christlike. Responsiveness is the considering others better than ourselves (Phil 2:3) and outdoing one another in showing honor (Rom 12:10) of the digital world. (I’m not talking about the text thread that you can’t escape from or the reply-all email chain that should die.)
I could be wrong, but I truly believe we should all get better at improving our workflows to improve our responsiveness. The two-minute rule is a good place to start. If you know that a reply will take less than two minutes, knock it out. The amount of time it takes to remember to reply will be more time-consuming than just doing it.
But such a value can also get ugly.
The Shadow Side of Responsiveness
You can already perceive what can go wrong here. Responsiveness shows enormous value to people, but it also can devalue others—especially those close to you. In looking at how responsiveness can end up eating you for lunch, consider these two problems:
- Workaholism: When you value responsiveness, you set up life to be able to respond quickly. Your phone stays by your side, your computer remains open, and you are more quick to address the email that just buzzed in your pocket than the child who is holding your hand. You stay up until 12am responding to emails and ensuring others feel cared for but exhaustion in the morning.
- Making Others Passive: You probably don’t consider this one when you think about responsiveness, but I run into it fairly regularly (and cause it). If you are too quick to respond—especially in groups—then other people become passive. Rather than create an environment where people all contribute, you train people to not think for themselves. Then, because you’re frustrated, you think you are the only one who will ever respond, so you do. Truth is you either (1) haven’t communicated the value in a way that others can share in and understand or (2) you just don’t know how to shut up and let other people chime in.
If you’re not careful, your love of responsiveness becomes a load you—and others—cannot bear.
Our Responsive Lord
Consider the Lord, though. Does he respond to us? Yes, he does. He hears our prayers, he cares for us, he is interested in us, and he is with us. At the same time, focus in on those prayers you pray. How many things have you prayed for that have gone unanswered? Is God unconcerned with you? Absolutely not. Does he know best? Yes, he does. Is his silence (or apparent lack of response) actually disinterest? Never.
If we make responsiveness out to be more than it should be, then, in our impatience and frustration, we neglect that God is often doing something bigger and greater than we realize. Perhaps we should recognize that there are other priorities, too, and that our goal shouldn’t just be hearing, “Thanks for the quick reply,” but rather, “Well done.”